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Philosophy on Music

PHILOSOPHY ON MUSIC

 

IMPORTANCE OF MUSIC

Music is one of the greatest gifts.

God has given to His children a gift that has threaded its way through the very history of this planet. This gift was evident:

  • At creation when the "Morning Stars sang together" (Job 38:7).
  • When Israel burst into song at their final deliverance at the far shores of the Red Sea (Exodus 15).
  • At the dedication of Solomon's temple (2 Chronicles 5:7-14).
  • Throughout the temple services.
  • At the deliverance of Israel at the time of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20).
  • Through the early church singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16).
  • Finally at the end of time when the redeemed lift their voices in praise to God (Revelation 15:4, 5).
  • God Himself is described as a musician "rejoicing over us with singing" (Zephaniah 3:17).

Music is used to express the very essence of life.

Its joys, sorrows, its frustrations. This is a legitimate and appropriate use of music.

"It has power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures; power to quicken thought and to awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of action and to banish the gloom and foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort" (Education, p 167, 168).


"Music is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth" (Education, p 68).

In worship, God is wearied by rote formalism, hypocrisy and insincerity.

  • "I cannot bear your evil assemblies . . . they have become a burden to me" (Isaiah 1:11-15).
  • "Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps!" (Amos 5:21-23).

At the same time, sincerity on its own is not enough.

  • God expects us to have regard for and do what is right (1 Chronicles 15:13-15).
  • Jesus states that true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth for these are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks (John 4:23,24).

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SOME BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES

Scripture provides the basis for the guiding principles with which Christians approach worship and life. Some of these have an important bearing on the music issue.

1. Doing everything to glorify God

1 Corinthians 10:31 provides an all-encompassing principle. "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." All music in which Christians participate, whether sacred or secular, ought to glorify God. The awareness of the presence of God will under-gird and control all music making for the Christian.

2. Choosing God's ways

Philippians 4:8 recommends: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is right, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things." Glorifying God in all things includes taking the initiative and choosing the noblest, the authentically true and right and pure—the best that is available.

3. Walking with God

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:10; cf Proverbs 1:7 and Psalm 111:10). Maintaining a close loyal relationship with God is a sacred duty for any person seeking discernment in music.

4. Surrendering creativity to God

Human creativity is a wonderful gift from God. However, in a fallen world it cannot be encouraged to simply pursue natural tendencies or follow the whims, tastes and preferences of the artist. Even in our music making, we must be aware that "there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12). In harmony with Paul's admonition to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5), musical creativity also needs to be disciplined under the Lordship of Christ (cf Psalm 101:2, 3).

5. Being aware of the influence of the world

Scripture admonishes: "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed" (Romans 12:2, Phillip's translation). While music of all cultures is to be respected as the genuine expression of a view of life and experience, in a sinful world no worship music of any culture or sub-culture can be considered sacrosanct or inherently above scrutiny or critique. The world around us cannot be allowed to dictate how Christians live or express themselves (1 John 2:15-17). In the arts, as in other cultural traditions and practises, God challenges us to evaluate, to be discerning, and in general to "come out from them and be separate, . . . [to] purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; cf John 17:15-19).

6. Understanding what God is like

As we come to God in worship, we are encouraged to "worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness" (Psalm 29:2; 96:9; 1 Chronicles 16:29). We need to understand His qualities.

  • He is the Awesome, Powerful, Transcendent God whom we approach carefully and reverently (see for example Psalm 89:5-8; 95:3-7).
  • And yet we also worship Him with joy and confidence because He is simultaneously the Immanent God who is pleased to call us His friends (John 15:13-15), a God who even desires to dwell with and in His people through the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:23).

As the two aspects of the nature of God are kept in dynamic tension in God's self revelation to us, so the elements in our worship response also need to be held in creative tension, providing direction for the choice of worship music and performance style. Thus, the worship we bring to God is both contemplative and intellectual as well as experiential and emotional. Neither aspect should dominate or be taken to excess.

7. The Old Testament model of worship and music

Although largely anecdotal in nature, the Old Testament picture of worship music developed under David's leadership in conjunction with prophetic direction (see 2 Chronicles 29:25), provides some valuable insight and guidance if studied in its cultural context. While simplistic parallels with our time must be avoided, it is clear that the following are instructive, and provide a model for worship music today:

  • The value placed on music ministry.
  • The choice of spiritually committed music leaders.
  • The full-time commitment to developing appropriate musical and lyrical excellence.
  • The unity of participants in musical activity and purpose across generations.
  • The musical mentoring that occurred.
  • The selection and utilisation of musical practices in relation to what was available at the time.
  • (See for example: 1 Chronicles 9:33; Chapters 15 and 16; cf 2 Samuel 6:5; 23:3-5; 25:6-8; 2 Chronicles 7:6; 35:15; Nehemiah 11:22, 23; 12:24, 27ff; 13:10, 11 etc).

8. The strengthening of the entire church

The apostle Paul instructed the Corinthian church: "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All these must be done for the strengthening of the church" (1 Corinthians 14: 26). In that the church is the body of Christ, all that occurs there, including the music, must help to build up and strengthen the entire church, rather than divide and break it down.

9. Variety and richness of worship

The New Testament injunction to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God," clearly celebrates the richness of worship when offered through a variety of legitimate musical expressions. 

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LYRICAL CONSIDERATIONS—WHAT THE WORDS ARE SAYING

When considering the lyrics of music to be used in worship and constructing worship events, the following should be noted:

  • Words should stimulate the mind, they should engage the emotions and experience and finally mobilise the will.
  • The words should be creatively crafted, expressing big ideas and themes in an economy of memorable expression.
  • The words will accurately reflect scripture, give a true picture of God, build and encourage enduring moral values and primarily focus on the positive (Philippians 4:8).
  • The words should be easily understood but not simplistic and unnecessarily repetitious.
  • The words to be sung for worship events, over time should preserve the appropriate balance between: the corporate versus the individual experience.
  • Praise of God versus personal experience (i.e. the objective versus subjective emphasis).
  • Praise versus appeal, admonition, motivation and consecration.
  • The sentiments of praise, thanksgiving and joy versus the emotions of longing, sorrow and grief.
  • The words of the songs that are chosen for times of worship should over time, express and underscore major Adventist teachings in a proper balance, with an emphasis on the central Christian teaching of Christ, redemption and personal salvation.

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MUSICAL CONSIDERATIONS—WHAT THE MUSIC IS SAYING

Music is not a neutral medium—it is a language with emotive power for good or evil. Therefore musicians will choose music that is in keeping with Biblical principles. It is important to note that music styles also are not neutral. They are value laden, and they require careful evaluation for use in worship. So when considering the form and style of music to be used in worship events, the following should be noted:

  • Singability is the first priority. Supportive harmonies and rhythms follow as the next level of artistic and musical choice.
  • Balance. There must be balance among musical elements - within the composition and within the event which may utlize a cluster of compositions. Avoid monotony and excessive repetitiveness.
  • Complementarity. The music must match and enhance the words and ideas, with the music rising out of the stimulus of the words. The words and music need to be complementary.
  • Association. Over the passage of time, both musical instruments and music styles can change their associations. Worship music planners should be aware of both past and present associations.
  • Instrumentation. The choice of instruments to be included in worship music needs to be made according to the appropriateness of how they will be used and played.
  • Variety. Encourage a legitimate variety in musical style and song selection. The use of a variety of hymns, gospel songs, scripture songs and contemporary worship music will ensure that the broadest possible range of worshippers will find their worship experience meaningful.

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SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CONSIDERATIONS

Seventh-day Adventists recognise the contributions of different cultures in offering worship to God through music. Musical forms and instruments vary greatly around the worldwide church family.

Music from one culture may sound strange to a person from a different culture. Furthermore, cultural change is also occurring within the various streams of culture around the world. Any one culture, once thought to be homogeneous in its music/worship expression, may well now give rise to a diversity of musical expressions.

The shrinking of the world into what has been called "the global village" has brought together elements of diverse musical traditions, and these are now often intersecting and impacting each other in expressions of both popular and religious/worship oriented music. The impact of culture on worship music should be carefully assessed on the following principles:

  • There may well be aspects of music in all cultures that are generally agreed to be out of harmony with Biblical principles.
  • Ideally, it is best for people within the various ethnic groups to prayerfully determine, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what is appropriate in their context. They need to consider both lyrical and musical elements, and the strength of any negative associations in making their determinations.
  • Deference to those in the community who experience special difficulty with negative associations will call for an application of the principle of loving self-sacrifice explained in Romans 14. Some music that blesses individuals and causes them no offence may be temporarily sacrificed for the sake of general unity.
  • It is not appropriate to impose the music of one culture upon a congregation of another, but it will be valuable to share, explain, and interpret one to another with an aim of developing understanding and tolerance. The ultimate goal is unity.
  • Those involved in music and its public presentation in church life and worship will be sensitive to cultural and generational differences, without merely pandering to culturally conditioned taste and preference.

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CONGREGATIONAL INVOLVEMENT IN WORSHIP THROUGH MUSIC

Maximise participation

  • Choose congregational music that maximises participation as total involvement promotes unity and fellowship.
  • Weight the balance of total music in worship towards congregational participation rather than special music.
  • Because participation is so important, it is desirable to use local church based musicians in worship services. Whenever possible, beginners can be involved in group music, and the talents of the congregation should be explored and used.
  • To maximise the number of people involved in the music of the church, the formation of choirs or other smaller vocal and/or instrumental groups is to be encouraged and nurtured.

Variety

Because worship should engage all worshippers, a variety of music should be chosen that appeals to the generations, age levels, family members and community groups who comprise the church.

New music

The teaching of new music should be carefully managed. Worship leaders should give clear instructions and simple steps, repeat newer songs regularly, and attempt to make new songs easily singable.

Leading in worship

Worshippers feel secure and free to enjoy their worship when the Worship Leader gives a positive, confident spiritual lead. As Worship Leaders plan the musical for praise and worship they should seek to focus the attention of the worshippers on God and not on people and their performance. In doing so they should also aim to consider the following:

  • Preparation. Ensure that adequate time is spent in preparation, both spiritually and musically for themselves as well as for the entire team.
  • Atmosphere. Create an atmosphere that is conducive to worship. Intentionally build unity. Prepare worshippers for the hearing of the Word.
  • Engage the whole congregation.
  • Creativity. Encourage the writing of original songs by members of the local church.
  • Balanced Programming. Ensure that all the elements planned for a worship service are balanced as far as time is concerned. Make sure that one part of the worship service does not dominate to the detriment of the rest of the program.

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THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS OF WORSHIP PROGRAMMING

Spiritual priorities

The audio-visual team, those who support the musicians and singers will be people who have a passion for God, who are walking with Jesus, and who have a desire to grow and strengthen the church.

Creating a culture of respect

Churches need to create a culture where the technical support team are valued.

Leaders need to nurture the spirituality and commitment of the technical team.

Acknowledgment of leadership

The technical team needs to acknowledge the leadership of the worship coordinator. They need to be aware of the following:

  • The issues of volume. Volume ought not to be so loud as to stifle singing, nor so soft that presentations cannot be heard. The issues of health, respect and well-being need to be kept in mind.
  • Lighting and other special effects must not dominate the worship service but should rather support and enhance the occasion.
  • Any computer graphics will likewise support and enhance the occasion.

Mentoring and training

Technicians, like musicians need to be mentored, trained and committed to improving their skills.

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REFLECTIONS ON MUSIC FOR THE CHRISTIAN IN A NON-WORSHIP CONTEXT

Non-worship music—including religious and secular music—has a legitimate place in the life of the Christian. It comes out of our very being, expressing the human spirit's reaction to life, love and the world in which we live.

While affirming the use and enjoyment of such music, Christians must judiciously and prayerfully make choices, evaluating lyrics as well as the overall impact of the music on personal spirituality and physical and emotional health. They will avoid music that endorses vulgarity, cheapness, immorality, anger, hate and violence.

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EDUCATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Christian musicians have a responsibility to improve and refine their art and to develop their understanding. They are to take their God-given responsibility in music ministry as a calling to servant leadership.

Churches

  • Training in leadership and management of music and worship issues is essential for ministers.
  • Where possible, churches should be willing to expend resources for the training of worship leaders, musicians and technicians.
  • Congregations, leaders and pastors need an increasing awareness that that music is not simply a preliminary activity, but an integral part of the worship experience.
  • Members at large should also be challenged to a deeper understanding of music and worship issues, and encouraged to develop discernment in musical taste.

Schools

  • Adventist Schools should be encouraged to consider the church-wide implications of excellence in music and in worship education.
  • Music education that can provide an increasing number of competent church and worship musicians should be an educational priority for church school leaders.

Families

Families should be encouraged to provide music and technical education for children that can readily equip them for participation and leadership in the music life of the church, as vocalists, instrumentalists, technicians, etc.

Families are encouraged to invest time and resources to offer opportunities for positive musical experiences that could include concerts, home music libraries and music related literature.

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